Follow the Pain

Find the Pain, Find the Problem

pain-is-not-the-problemSales people are often coached to look for a customer’s pain point and address it to win the sale. This is good advice in some circumstances, and following the pain can also help diagnose bigger business issues.

If growth is slow, ROI is declining and morale is lagging, the problem might not be your company’s pain points, but how you respond to them.

Being reactive is not strategic

Imagine for a moment that you burned your finger, like I did the other day while curling my hair. That one little spot by my right knuckle was a killer. It captured my attention and I stopped what I was doing  – which was getting ready to speak at a conference – to deal with the pain.

It was sharp and it was immediate and my complete focus shifted from the big picture of the audience I was about to meet to the tiny little spot the size of a pencil easer that dominated my being for the moment.

Even though I knew it would be gone in a few days, that pain was a priority and I needed to do something to make it go away.

When you encounter pain points in your business, you may react the same way. Do you stop what you’re doing to find treatment? When you do, it’s easy to lose momentum.

Focus easily shifts away from strategic goals when you react to something that is temporary yet painful.

Is Pain-Killing Counterproductive?

Unfortunately, following the pain can backfire. What if every time you lost a customer you stopped what your work on new product development or marketing to go out and find a replacement?

That’s an immediate reaction to the pain that overlooks the fact that consistent application of activities like strategic marketing generate lots more new customers over time.

In my experience, it’s not uncommon for the reaction that businesses have to a particular pain point to inadvertently cause more pain in the end. If I had skipped my speaking engagement to go find burn gel, I would have done just that. I didn’t.

Time Heals

Pain spreads like an infection when managers make knee-jerk decisions about a program that hasn’t paid off quickly enough to suit them. When a company decides to invest in something like PR or social media to expand its community, it may have an unrealistic expectation for immediate payoff.

Just as few of us fall in love and get married in the space of a few weeks, relationships take time. Cultivating community through PR or social networking requires an investment of resources as well as time, patience and consistency to bear fruit.

Looking for results too soon can easily result in the perception of failure if you decide after a month or two that these efforts are not yielding results. It’s easy to pull the plug, thinking “It’s not working,” when the success that you hoped for is just around the corner.

Maybe you’re responding to pain that you don’t have enough customers or revenue coming in. You decide to drop your strategic PR and social engagement activities in favor of a tactical approach: direct response advertising.

That may work to a degree, bringing in a few new customers. However, the results would be much more dramatic when properly paired with the social media and PR programs you just dropped.

My mother, who is full of what I call “momisms”, would call this cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Find the Facts

Just because a specific aspect of an integrated program is not “working” (or at least you can’t see how it’s working yet) does not justify eliminating it until you’re sure.

Those who are most successful in marketing their business understand that things like creating brand value are just as important in the long-term as the immediate results from lead generation activities.

They resist the urge to change too quickly, creating whiplash. Certainly, decisive action is required, but only with adequate inputs and full understanding of the implications of the decision being made.

Management of marketing and business in general is much more effective when you validate seat-of-the-pants decisions with real data. Back up your gut feel with strategy, and don’t lose your focus on the big picture.

Remember, removing pain doesn’t always eliminate the disease. Often, it’s treating a symptom without creating a cure. If you want a healthy business, think holistically. Alleviate pain and nourish the patient for long-term success.

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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